Reclaiming Yoga

I started my run at #30DaysOfYoga counting on the power of repetition. It worked as I'd hoped, restoring yoga to a regular place in my life.

But I think it worked for more reasons than simple repetition. It seems to me that my connections to yoga over the years laid a foundation I could return to.

That may be one of the secrets to getting a habit back: Having its roots in something that's a part of you. If you're tryinig to develop a brand-new habit it seems to me tying it to something you've loved before may give you what you need to make it stick.

My yoga interest stretches back decades. When I was a kid I read a book on yoga that belonged to Older Brother #2. I remember it as having line drawings of the asanas, a discussion of breathing, and information on advanced practices that included everting one's bowels to rinse them in the stream you should be standing in, then I guess tuck them back in somehow, or maybe draw them back in through ab strength.

Whatever it was, I didn't plan to try it. But I worked on trying to do Lotus and Tree and a few others. I memorized the Sun Salutation sequence. Even with the limberness of youth I struggled with Lotus, feeling the pinch and drag of my feet pulling at my inner thighs after I torqued my feet into place with my hands.

In high school it was episodes of Lilias, Yoga and You on Spokane Public TV after school. Lilias had a long, dark braid, a soothing voice, and a Danskin outfit of leotard and tights. This of course told me that doing yoga required special clothes, and who wouldn't want some of that?

The years passed and Jane Fonda had her effect, what with aerobics and legwarmers. Two babies and a few career moves later I started setting my alarm for 5 a.m. to have time to work out before driving (ugh) from my home in Coeur d'Alene to my job in Spokane. Some of my VHS tapes (yes, this was in the dark, dark days before apps, my children) put me through step aerobics and workouts with light weights. Others, though, gave me the gravity-defying yoga of Rodney Yee and a few others.

I didn't know about modifications and these tapes didn't give me options. So when someone popped up and down effortlessly into multiple repetitions of Upward Bow when I couldn't do more than get my butt off the ground, it was a trifle discouraging. But there were encouraging moments too, like one in which the person demonstrating Tree said not to worry if I swayed because trees sway.

Then one day I saw an event taking place at a yoga studio near campus. They were offering a juice tasting, which sounded interesting, and a class. (For the record, wheatgrass juice tastes like new-mown lawn. Not a fan.)

Live instruction took me to a whole new way of practice. Being shown modifications let me work toward the ultimate expression of a posture while seeing each modification as its own posture worth executing well. Each class brought a new insight, a subtle shift in position, a reminder to lift or drop or open. I spent a whole Saturday in a workshop going pose by pose through the Sun Salutation, breaking each one down to examine its elements and then putting them back together. The year I turned 40 I did 108 Sun Salutations at the winter solstice.

Yoga was a habit.

So when I started doing it again I had memories of what it felt like, what I could be like, to motivate me.

I might not be able to do a full bind in a side angle now -- and may never get to that level again. But I can lift from the core, roll over my toes, and remember that Down Dog does, in fact, come to represent rest rather than exertion.

I spread my fingers, distribute weight evenly and push back to take pressure off my wrists, lift my hips, drop my heels a fraction toward the ground (not that they ever really touched the floor even when I was at my best), exhale. Inhale. Exhale.






Keeping Another Streak Going: #30DaysOfYoga

I've written about the strange power of a #30DaysOf approach to working on a new habit like flossing. I'm now working on a new #30DaysOf challenge to revive an old habit: Yoga.

I used to have a regular yoga practice and loved the way I felt as I got stronger. It served as a moving meditation and gave me a community of people I practiced with.

It also gave me a different relationship with food. I could think about a snack (like, say, a giant snickerdoodle, which they sold in the bakery next to the yoga studio I first started going to) and my mental response ran along the lines of, "You don't want to eat that right now. You're someone who does yoga and you need to be empty for practice," or "You're someone who does yoga and you're deciding not to indulge."

Being "someone who does yoga" was good for me in the way the giant Snickerdoodle Incident sign was. Even better because it provided other positive benefits from the exercise and mental focus.

I lost that habit, though, for various reasons.

The first reason: Because I said so.

I gave myself permission not to do yoga in 2012 when adding it into already-packed days felt like a chore, not a gift I gave myself. This has happened more than once, as I blogged back in 2008. 2012 was a particularly full year that included changing my career along with the city I lived in, and with the move I gave up my access to a yoga community in a studio that felt like home.

The new career was intense, the days were long. After that 2012 career change I had another one in 2016 and yet another in 2017. With all those changes I really lost my yoga self even as my professional self stretched in new directions.

The second reason: The space/time continuum.

My life is more geographically challenging than it used to be. In Spokane I lived 2.5 miles from work. Although the bike ride to the studio was uphill all the way and thus a bit of a butt-burner it was only three miles from work and the ride home after practice was a downhill coast.

I now live 8.5 miles from my Seattle office or a 60-mile drive to the office in Olympia I'm in roughly every other week. Time isn't money, time is distance. Or distance is time, which is the same thing. I enjoy my 40-minute bike ride to work but it's 40 minutes, not the 15 it was in Spokane. Bus ride takes about the same amount of time.

Bicycling may have adjusted my attitude toward time, but the day has 24 hours and sleep is a food group so I make tradeoffs. (Sidebar: I'm quite aware of the privilege that enables me to live relatively close to work in Seattle's overheated housing market.)

The third reason: A trilemma.

I haven't found a studio I like in a location that makes sense with a class schedule that fits my work life. This equation is similar to the classic "Price, Quality, Speed -- Pick Two."

I can work from home occasionally, which gives me a great quiet space in which to focus and crank through a lot of things (although I've given up on the idea of "inbox zero" as a goal -- people just send more). Telecommuting essentially gives me time. But if I were to go to a studio near my office then I'd need to go to the office to be near yoga. And when I go to Olympia or travel somewhere else -- I'm on the road roughly every other week one way or another -- I'd be nowhere near the Seattle studio.

The fourth reason for a while: Ouch. 

The Great Broken Elbow Complicated Later by a Subsequent Frozen Shoulder Yuck of 2016 meant no yoga. No bicycling. That stupid frozen shoulder was incredibly painful and went on and on through physical therapy, medical massage, ice packs and ibuprofen, but eventually subsided.

Moving past those

So here I am. Settled into the new job that as of March 1, 2018 was a year old. Still geographically complicated but I travel less than I did early on when I needed to build relationships with new colleagues all around the state. I successfully completed a 10-day bike touring vacation fall 2017 so my body is clearly capable of some movement.

And I really need yoga. One of the side effects of the broken elbow coming after 18 months of savagely long days (merging two nonprofits is a lot of work) and sorrow at the loss of my beloved brother Don was weight gain. When you're drained by the day, a little sofa time with a nice glass of red wine feels medicinal.

Let that habit replace your exercise, though, and the effects of fewer calories out and more calories in really compound. I want the mindfulness I have when my identity includes that of "person who does yoga and thus pays attention to her food".

Given the success of my less-than-serious #30DaysOfFlossing personal challenge, I'm bringing that approach to yoga. There's no giant sign saying "Days I've Done Yoga" in the house but I'm on it.

I have a great app, Down Dog Yoga, that lets me choose length, level of difficulty, and a special focus if I want it like some extra core work or hip openers (good for people who bike a lot). The instructional approach and sequences are similar to those of my Spokane yoga home.

I'm practicing alone and thus don't have a community. But this practice has its own placemaking element. If you've been a regular studio practitioner you know what I mean by placemaking. You step into that dedicated space with its wood floor, its particular scent or sounds or vibes, the quieter voices and bare feet, and you've entered Yoga Land. It's a peaceful place.

Our house has enough open space in the living room for me to leave my yoga mat out. This provides a visual reminder that I'm Person who Does Yoga right next to the table where I eat. I light a couple of candles, set my tablet on the little stand that was a gift from Second Daughter, and touch "Start Practice" on the app.

How I'll get there -- ahimsa. 

Ahimsa, one of the core tenets of Buddhism, Jainism and Hinduism, calls for nonviolence, including nonviolence toward oneself. A while back I happened across a comment on social media from someone who was doing a similar 30 Days of Yoga challenge. She gave herself permission to be kind to herself. If what she could manage in a given day was a few minutes of legs up against the wall, which is an actual asana, that would count. Given these kinds of parameters and the ability to choose a really short practice on the app, I figure I can make this work even when I'm on the road or if I happen to feel under the weather.

How I won't get there -- making it extra hard by setting the bar too high.

Someone I know started sharing on Facebook when he committed to doing not just 30 days of yoga, but 30 days of hot yoga. The post the day he had an all-out meltdown and ended up getting his heart checked out was not motivating.

I don't see any need to break myself in this process. The point is re-establishment of a habit, not some Olympic feat, although maybe someday I'll once again feel I can do 108 Sun Salutations for Solstice, as I did a couple of times back in the day. (The feelings created by doing this provide another wonderful example of the power of repetition.)

I'm reminded of Betz's comment about people who tell her they can't come to her yoga class because they're not ready for it -- not good enough. "You don't get flexible to do yoga. You do yoga to get flexible." My left elbow, Breaky McBreakerson, is sending me some reminders that I'm not really back to nailing a bunch of full crocodile poses yet so I also need to remember I'm doing yoga to get stronger and am not there yet. Say, ibuprofen, come over here and sit down by me.

How I'll get there -- tracking, reminding, reporting. 

I do better when I'm keeping track of my follow-through. I keep a health notebook in which I record exercise on a chart showing four weeks at a glance (along with text notes on various things that need tracking for good healthcare advice, like my occasional migraines), so I have a visual pattern to look at. An empty box would be Not Good.

I set a reminder on my calendar that pops up at 7 p.m. every night to ask "Have you done yoga tonight?". Mind you, it doesn't bark at me in all caps DO YOGA. It asks gently. With ahimsa.

For more of that accountability that research tells us helps you develop new habits I'm texting Second Daughter every other day or so with an update on how many days I've practiced. Even if I don't reach 30, it's more than I was doing before I started. Yesterday's text read #10DaysOfYoga.

Namasté.

Your Turn

  • If you practice yoga, what keeps you doing it?
  • Are you working on some kind of commitment to yourself? How's that going?


Lots of 30 Days of Yoga Content and Other Good Yoga Advice Out There



Keep that Streak Going: #30DaysOf Something that Matters to You

All my life I've tried various approaches to "becoming a better person." "Better" defined, of course, as something I wanted to change about myself. This might even include "be better at accepting myself as I am." You may have a list that looks something like mine with its hits and misses.
Bit my nails as a kid -- haven't done that in a long time (although I'm bothered by my cuticles and have a weird fascination with having unattainably perfect nails).

Used to be messy -- I'd let my room go completely, then go into a frenzied whirlwind of reorganizing everything down to the contents of various boxes in my closet. Now I'm reasonably tidy all the time. It's easier and I like the way our house feels with bare surfaces. (They may be in need of dusting but they're not piled high with random things.)

Tried meditating for a while -- Turns out I like reading books about meditating more than I do actual meditation. For a while I had a really faithful yoga habit that served me as moving meditation, centering my mind on my mat pretty successfully. I now have an app touted as meditation for impatient people so maybe this will do the trick. If I use it.

My journal is pretty sporadic -- And that's okay with me. I kept diaries as a kid (those little square ones that locked with a key even though you could probably jam the book open with a toothpick). I've been keeping a journal for years now as an adult. I sometimes wish I had a slightly more regular habit, as it feels kind of funny to do a "catch-up" entry because I want to record something significant that happened two months ago but the feelings have shifted with time. But it's there and I do keep coming back to it.

That monthly breast self-exam you're supposed to do -- Yeah, full disclosure/TMI, not at all good about this despite having had really frightening bouts of cysts in the past that I thought might be cancer, and having had a maternal grandmother with breast cancer (late onset) and dear friends who have battled it (successfully, thank heavens).

With no scientific basis whatsoever I figure I'm kind of in the middle of the bell curve on habit formation. I succeed at some things, perform somewhat half-assedly at others, have given up on some things. I read Zero Waste Home a while back and made a few changes in addition to some pretty good existing practices, but there's no way I'd ever consider making my own mascara/eyeliner out of burned almonds. Waste of good almonds, I say.

A while back I read The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin. Jeez, talk about tackling every facet of your life. Obsessive with the charts much? She's someone who responds to the visual cues of seeing whether or not she has performed up to expectations so she has a whole system.

I've done this chart business once quite successfully so I get it. I grew up with a mom who had been a schoolteacher so we had chore charts with gold stars and the whole business, which may explain why this worked for me.

The bad habit at that point that I really needed to do something about: the consumption of giant snickerdoodles purchased at the coffee stand in my building back when I worked at WSU Spokane. My office was on the fifth floor so I usually walked down the stairs for the cookie (and companion latte) and back up, but that certainly didn't burn enough calories to eliminate the cookie effects entirely.

I started this sign in my office modeled on the workplace safety signs you see about how many days they've gone without an incident, or the signs you'll see on a city street telling you how many fatal crashes they've had in the year and asking you to slow down. (If only people would actually do this.)

I wish I had a picture of this sign. At the top of a whiteboard I wrote Number of Days without a Snickerdoodle Incident. Every day I increased the number by one. I started the sign after a week off at Christmas during which I had consumed homemade treats but officially had not eaten any giant snickerdoodles so I got off to a nice start writing a big "9".

When I left my job roughly 18 months later I had not eaten a single giant snickerdoodle. From that particular coffee stand, at least.... And in all seriousness, very few purchased anywhere else. They were the good, bendy-in-the-middle-the-way-snickerdoodles-are-supposed-to-be ones too. It was very satisfying to update the number by one each day, and after a while I couldn't stand the thought of resetting to zero and having to look at the evidence that I had slipped.

We don't all have the same bad habits. For example, Gretchen Rubin is apparently a yeller and a criticizer. I am not. I'm generally a pretty sunny optimist, take things in stride, and didn't grow up in a family of people who yelled -- nothing I want to change about that. Everyone's list is unique, but I'm betting everyone outside of people living in Buddhist monasteries has a list of things in their lives they'd like to change in some specific direction.

The part that made the most sense to me in The Happiness Project was the notion that you shouldn't try to improve everything about yourself at once. This is why the whole New Year's resolution business is doomed to failure. Who among us -- be honest now -- can really go from zero exercise to 60 minutes five days a week and cut out some food you love that's bad for you and keep your house super clean and start an organic herb garden in your windowsill and and and -- you see what I mean. There's a reason gyms are reliably full the first couple of weeks in January, then start emptying out.

So I don't make resolutions. Best friend Betz gave me her eminently reasonable thoughts on them: If you see something you want to change why would you wait until an artificially created date that has been equally artificially designated as a date to start doing something you think represents positive change? Why not start when you think of it?

I also have a lovely inspiring example in Second Daughter. She's very self-aware (one of those people who writes in her journal every day) and takes on different 30-day challenges , although sometimes just as a reset, not as something she necessarily intends to keep doing.

Right now, for example, she's in the midst of a no-added-sugar 30-day run. Good way to find out how often sugar (or "evaporated cane juice") is a hidden ingredient. Telling yourself you're doing something for just 30 days makes it a bit more attainable, and at the same time that's enough repetition for the formation of new habits. Hence the abundance of #30DaysOf hashtags on Twitter.

There's one habit I have truly, sincerely meant to get fixed in place for years and years and years. A habit I think about in exactly the same way every time I'm in a particular setting. You know this one: the habit you wish you had when you're reclined in the dentist's chair and they're looking at your gums.

"How often do you floss?" they ask, quite reasonably.

My usual answers are along the lines of "I have really good intentions...." or "Faithfully for about three days after every dental visit."

In the last two years I've changed dentists twice thanks to changes in work and insurance. And quite shamefully I had not been to the dentist in a really long time -- as in years -- when I went to the first one. I kept meaning to get around to making the appointment and then would get really busy. Again. So that dentist had to give me shots and only clean a part of my mouth at a time so my gums wouldn't be so loose my teeth fell out, or something like that.

Then I changed to Dentist #2. Same flippant answer on the flossing when they asked. Have I learned nothing? Apparently.

But I flossed when I went home that night. And the next morning I tweeted out facetiously -- oh, I'm the funny one, I am --

So humorous, that @barbchamberlain. But here's the thing. When I tweeted that out, I had just flossed.

I've done #30daysof biking and have often succeeded in riding my bike every day for a whole month. Five years out of the past seven, in fact. I've completed other bike challenges too, from coffeeneuring to errandonnee. I do especially well in years when I tell people, thus setting myself up for some (ahem) feedback if I fail. Mind you, I've made other public statements about bike challenges I haven't finished successfully, but still.

No, I didn't start tweeting out my daily "Look, I flossed!" report. But I kept flossing, sometimes twice a day. Today is Day 60 of #30DaysOfFlossing.

I didn't start another commitment precisely on Day 31, but I am moving on to another one.

Your Turn
Working on any personal commitment you want to share here for some external accountability?

Related Reading
Looking Back, Looking Ahead
The Yoga of Biking. Or, the Biking of Yoga.
5 Behavior and Culture Hacks to Get People Walking and Biking
Set Down that Heavy Load: The Things We Carry
SISO Method for Life Management
It is Always Better to Ride than Not to Ride
An Easy New Year's Resolution: Write It Down


Kindness Matters

"Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a great battle." While the source of this quote is a bit fuzzy the meaning for me is crystal clear. The world could use more kindness.

It's an underrated virtue, one thought of as weak. But I think it takes strength to start from a place of kindness. It's much easier to react, to be defensive (or offensive), to respond either like a pillbug that rolls into a little ball or a porcupine with quills a-bristle in every direction. Any of these responses lets you stay focused on you.

Most people have things going on about which you know little to nothing. These invisible realities affect how they think, act, and speak. We in turn respond based on our own invisible realities. This can become a downward spiral of assumptions (you remember what you make when you assume, right?).

What if instead we approached interactions grounded in kindness? What would that change in ourselves, in others, in the world?

I find that when I act grounded in kindness I'm happier, and there's research to back this up. So hey, you can selfishly be a kind person and it's not an oxymoron.

When I start from kindness I give people the benefit of the doubt. I rephrase a question in an email before sending it to eliminate the negative connotations in a word choice. I ask if someone needs help, whether they're looking for an address or an item in the grocery store. I smile with sympathy at the parent on the bus dealing with a tired, cranky child and give "peekaboo" a shot to see if it works; I've been there, it wears you out, and the last thing you need is total strangers looking at you as if you're a bad parent with a bad kid.

It can take time and effort if it's not your usual starting point. Even if it's a common "setting" for you it can still get lost if your defenses go up or someone comes at you with their hair on fire. If it's not already a reflex or if you're in an especially challenging situation kindness requires mindfulness--that moment in which you take a breathe and think before reacting so you can choose your response.

Kindness isn't just something for other people, either. The concept of "ahimsa"--compassion or non-violence--includes compassion towards oneself. It's like putting your own oxygen mask on first; you can't help someone else if your own air supply isn't flowing.

There's a quotation attributed to the Buddha about happiness that for me also applies to kindness: "Thousands of candles can be lighted from a single candle, and the life of the candle will not be shortened. Happiness never decreases by being shared."

How does kindness show up in your life? Are you kind to yourself? To others? How can you increase the overall kindness levels in the world?

Related Reading

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